Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) deeply mourns the tragic death of Itishree Pradhan, aged 27, who was a Sikhya Sahayak at Tikiri Upper Primary School of Kashipur Block in Raygada district of Odisha. Her succumbing to 90% burn injuries and ultimate death is a direct outcome of her taking up the offence of sexual harassment at the hands of Netrananda Dandasena, the School Sub-Inspector (SI). WSS salutes Itishree Pradhan for her courage and persistence to bring to book the sexual harassment of the SI. Her courage is most inspiring even as she lost her life fighting against this grave injustice of sexual harassment at the workplace that women from all walks of life have to struggle against in this patriarchal society.Let us have a look at the facts. Itishree Pradhan had registered a police complaint on July 18, 2013. Soon after that, the SI absconded. The district administration’s anti-sexual harassment cell had conducted an enquiry that had held the SI guilty of his crime and recommended action against him. The cell had directed the District Inspector of Schools (DI) to take the action against him but nothing came of the entire process. After this the complainant had met the District Collector, the Odisha State Women’s Commission and the Director General of Police (DGP) in her pursuit for justice against the School Sub-Inspector.
On October 27, a person entered her hostel premises and asked her to withdraw the complaint. When she refused, he doused her with kerosene and set her on fire. Preliminary investigations have revealed that she was called out of the hostel building by the unknown person while she was watching television with some children of the upper primary residential school. Police claim that the teacher was set on fire after she refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual assault that she had filed in July against the sub-inspector of schools, Netranand Dandsena. Police also claims that the students of the upper primary school came to know about the incident almost 15 minutes after it took place.
She was immediately taken to Rayagada district hospital but as her condition became critical in the district hospital, the administration sent her to Visakhapatnam. Upon her death, the Chief Minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 10 lakhs and a Crime Branch probe into the incident. The accused has also been arrested. Alas, this is neither a real compensation for her life nor in any sense adequate to cleanse the burden of guilt of the Chief Minister, district administration, police and State Women’s Commission.
It is our view that had action been taken promptly as per the law, this young and courageous teacher would not have had to lose her life. Instead of fulfilling his role and responsibility as a School Sub-Inspector, men like the accused Netrananda Dandasena abuse their power by wreaking violence in their official capacity, and are then allowed to remain unpunished.
The vulnerability of the complainant had increased while the accused had been roaming scot free, despite the fact that the police and the administration at every level -from district to State – had been approached for support. It is indeed a rare act of courage, the persistent manner in which Itishree Pradhan had pursued her case.
However, by remaining silent and inactive after he went absconding, the local and state authorities allowed the offender to burn the complainant to death. Defacto thus, they become accomplices in the crime.
A vigilant state acting in the interest of women and ensuring their protection is an urgent necessity that is denied to working women across the country. The all pervasiveness of patriarchal violence calls upon every individual, and a collective effort, from the government to unions and professional associations, to act promptly in the event of a complaint made in the workplace, especially when the accused is a senior person and in a relatively more powerful position.
• We cherish the fighting spirit of Itishree Pradhan and countless women like her in the pursuit of justice.
• We believe that it is upon us women to be organized in our struggle against violence so that no woman has to fight a lone battle.
• We call upon all teachers and working women to organize more systematically to offer support to each other knowing the patriarchal biases and slowness with which the elected representatives, the government and its institutions respond to this growing menace, if at all.
• We demand that the suspended school sub-inspector who is key to the crime branch probe as there are no eyewitnesses, the inspector in charge of Tikiri police station, the District Inspector of Schools (DI) and the Collector be charged with murder for Itishree Pradhan’s death and be dealt by law with utmost stringency.
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression
November 6, 2013